Faf back into the fray

Proteas Test captain Faf du Plessis returns to lead the squad for the first Test match against Australia starting at Kingsmead in Durban on Thursday.

The captain has recovered from the finger injury that side-lined him for the limited-overs series against India.

His return is a welcome boost to the injury-free list, with AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock also making full recoveries ahead of the match. Temba Bavuma has not recovered satisfactorily from the hand fracture, and is not available for selection for the match.

“I have played with finger injuries before,” Du Plessis said ahead of the match on Wednesday.

“The biggest battle you have to get over is the mental side of things. I have had three good nets this week, I have been hitting a lot of balls, but the biggest thing is to be mentally ready for the battle. I am ready for that.”

Du Plessis says he expects more batting-friendly conditions because of the coastal itinerary of the series, and more dominant contributions from his batsmen after the tough series against India. Although a number of the batsmen coming back from injury have had limited match time, he believes the preparation for the series is more mental than physical.

“For me mentally is where I make the switch,” he explained. “ Before the India series, personally, I didn’t have a net for two months. I had a few nets before the match and I played the first Test against India. Mentally I was in a good space and I felt good going into the series. Form for me is mental, every player will want to perform but it is about how mentally strong you are to get through that poor patch.

“I’m looking forward to see how our batters do this series, I think the wickets will be a lot better,” he said. “ The India series had bowling conditions, probably the most we have had in South Africa. The runs that were scored in the series were not a direct reflection of the batsmen’s form. There were low scores from both teams, there was only one hundred from Virat (Kohli).”

Australia’s captain, Steve Smith, is a strong cog in the line-up, and comes into the series as the No.1 ranked batsman following a stellar season with the bat. Du Plessis believes it will be important to absorb the ebb and flow of the pressure moments, particularly against a competitive Australian unit.

“Australia are a very good team when they are on top,” he said. “For us it is about limiting those moments in every game. There will be times when they will be on top but it is about how well you can absorb that period of play and get through it. Either by not losing wickets in clusters or with the ball by how well you can keep them quiet. If you keep the run rate down, you can get wickets, but if they are scoring freely, they can get on top of you as a bowling attack.

“The last series we played here was a tough one,” he said. “I remember Morne (Morkel) getting bowled in the last half hour at Newlands, it was a tough series. When you play Australia you expect nothing less. In this series we want to put a peg in the ground to try and change that. It is easier said than done but we are a strong Test team, we have had some good results and we are looking forward to a tough Test series.”